ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

CBR12 Archive

Sunday

22

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Fans of Rachel Bloom, fans of comedic but heartfelt autobiographies

In a nutshell: Actor / Singer / Writer Rachel Bloom shares stories from growing up, dealing with bullies, creating her career, and just living her life.

Worth quoting:
Loads, but I listened to the audio version while running, so couldn’t exactly take notes.

Why I chose it:
I loved Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. I thought it was interesting and funny and I was genuinely blown away by the team’s ability to write multiple musical numbers every week. Plus that cover? As someone raised on Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High books, that cover spoke to me on a deep level.

Review:
Warning: There isn’t a ton in here about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, so if you were hoping to get the inside details on how the show worked, you’ll be disappointed. But I think given that her involvement in that show was one of the reasons I considered the book, and I still ended up giving it five stars should speak to how engaging the stories she chooses to tell are.

Bloom’s book is open and vulnerable without it feeling fake or affected. She shared things from her childhood that people who are more concerned about appearances might skip over, but that give the reader a genuine belly laugh. I guffawed multiple times, but I also teared up. It’s a genuinely entertaining read.

I also cannot recommend the audio version highly enough. She includes little updates that aren’t in the printed version to clarify things, she’s great at describing anything that would be a picture or photo in the book. But the best part is there’s a musical in the middle. Like, a 10-minute musical, with songs and music and shit. I’m not sure how that comes across in the print version (maybe there’s a link to it on youtube or something?), but it was an utter delight to experience in audio form. Ah, I’ve missed her bizarre and relatable content.

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Keep it

Sunday

15

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those looking for a well-written story where the person who is screwing up as they grow is a young woman, not a young man.

In a nutshell:
Our nameless (why are these women always without names) main character is just out of university, a writer, and living in Australia, where the world around her is slowly dying from climate change, while she both moves further away from her dreams and sets new ones to focus on.

Worth quoting:
“I thought being hurt would give my life an interesting kind of texture.”
“At that point in my life, I don’t think that I had considered that anybody but myself had the capacity to feel things with any real integrity.”

Why I chose it:
This was the other book in the Books That Matter subscription I received.

Review:
Hmmm.

First off, this book is filled with really lovely, evocative language. I could picture both the things taking place in the present of the book, as well as the history she describes throughout, of the search hundreds of years ago for an ‘inland sea’ in Australia. That made the book interesting to read, and it definitely kept me thinking throughout.

I also appreciate the main idea of the book – someone who is adrift, figuring things out, living a fairly ordinary life against a backdrop of a world that is literally burning down. There’s an interesting dichotomy there. How does one move forward, make choices, experience life, when all around is fire and heat waves and earthquakes? It’s especially relevant now, as I sit in the second lockdown of the year, wondering how to move forward in life when there is literally a pandemic swirling about.

But I don’t think book connected with me in the way perhaps it has with others. Now that I’m done, it reminds me a bit of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which I did not like. There’s such a specific feeling evoked by that kind of harm one causes to one’s self. And I don’t mean that in a judgmental way, I just don’t find that … interesting, as a subject of literature. At least, not as it was presented in this book. And I know that so much of what we’ve been taught as ‘great’ literature is men being self-indulgent and messy and harmful in their self-exploration, so I suppose yay, now women authors get to do the same? I don’t know.

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Saturday

14

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Those who like to collect books of speeches.

In a nutshell:
Collection of Thunberg’s speeches, delivered throughout 2018 and 2019

Worth quoting:
“You can’t simply make up your own facts, just because you don’t like what you hear.”
“Every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves: how will this decision affect that [emission] curve?”

Why I chose it:
I recently subscribed to the Books That Matter box, and this was included in November’s delivery.

Review:
How does one review a collection of speeches by a child? It seems … odd to do so. Instead, I want to talk about what I read in these speeches, and the overall issue of climate change and activism. However, I will say that these speeches are nearly identical in content, and are basically understandably angry and frustrated calls to action.

Action that isn’t happening.

Thunberg talks a lot about how she does not like hearing from adults and politicians that people like her give them hope. And she’s right – it’s absurd to look to children to fix things we as adults have broken, to look for them for hope, when there are people in power nodding along to her speeches who could actually, y’know, do something. At the same time, it’s really impressive how so many younger people aren’t waiting until they’re older to speak up about the things that matter to them.

And also … I’m old enough to be Thunberg’s mother, and I don’t have any more of a clue how to fix things, nor do I find myself in a position of power. Shit, I just voted in an election where 70 million people thought it’d be cool to keep a racist bigot sexual assaulting asshole in office, and where one elderly turtle can hold up economic assistance for 350 million people. How DOES someone make a difference in these systems?

Climate change is one of those issues where on an individual level there are obviously loads of things we can do (not eat meat, not consume dairy, not take flights, etc.), but corporations continue to produce the carbon on such a massive scale. There’s obviously a need for collective action – and Thunberg’s school strike has turned into something like that – but I also think it’s hard when what some people see as the biggest emergency of our life time is competing with other emergencies that might seem more immediate to a lot of people.

Like I said. Frustrating.

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Friday

13

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

One Life by Megan Rapinoe

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Football (soccer) fans; people who like awesome people.

In a nutshell:
One of the world’s best professional footballers shares her story of growing up, becoming a star, and speaking out about things that matter.

Worth quoting:
“In a country of 330 million people, only 23 women get to make a living the way we do, and you need to be a gladiator just to get on the team.”

Why I chose it:
I love football. I am a US Women’s National Team and Reign supporter. Pinoe is one of my favorite players. Like, this book was always something I was going to read.

Review:
I love soccer. I play it competitively in a grassroots league here in England, and I watch it. The NWSL team I support is the Reign, where Rapinoe plays. I’ve been in the stands as the US Women’s National Team won two world cups (in 2015 in Canada, and last year in France). I’m not a fan who can spout off stats, but I am a fan who loves watching the game.

Even people in the US who don’t follow soccer have probably heard of Megan Rapinoe. In last years’ World Cup, she won the award from most goals, as well as player of the tournament. But before that, people may remember her as being one of the first athletes to kneel in solidarity with the protests that Colin Kaepernick started, during the US national anthem. She is outspoken, and has taken to using the platform she has to promote other voices.

The book is a quick, easy read. She shares some insight into her time on the US team, but also her time growing up. Her childhood is surprisingly normal in many ways, and she’s relatable. She’s honest about where she has to improve and clear about where she excels – not just in soccer, but in life. She’s also inspiring as hell, being one of the first out professional female athletes. She’s helped lead the way for pay parity for women in the lawsuit against US soccer that she and four teammates filed. I remember being in the stands last year, as the US women won, and we all started chanting ‘Equal Pay.’ Shitty that such chants are still needed, but amazing that more people are recognizing the absurdity of pay inequality across gender and race these days.

The theme that runs through the aptly named book is basically that we all just have this life. What are we really doing with it? Are we speaking out in defense of our beliefs? In support of others? Are we doing what we think is right? After reading this, I feel reinvigorated. The writing is fun and feels free and open. I’m sure she held some things back, but it didn’t read like that. It read like a cool person telling some cool stories.

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Keep it

Tuesday

10

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Creak on the Stairs by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
People looking for a page-turning mystery.

In a nutshell:
Officer Elma has returned to her hometown of Akranes after working in Reykjavik. Within a couple of days, there is a murder.

Worth quoting:
“People had gone out of their way to comfort her whereas they had made do with slapping him on the shoulder — as if a mother’s grief was more profound, more hearfelt, than a father’s.”

Why I chose it:
On my regular search for mysteries based in Iceland, this one popped up.

Review:
CN for the book: Child abuse.

What a fascinating book. Author Ægisdóttir weaves multiple stories together, including the inner thoughts of a child from 30 years ago, as she tells the story of a murder that may or may not be exactly what the reader thinks. There are a lot of red herrings in this book, but none are absurd, none are out of left field, and all fit together. The book has what I find to be a satisfying ending, not because everything is tied up the way I want, but because everything that has been laid out in the book still makes sense in the end.

This book gave me what I like in Icelandic mysteries: a sense of place. The books I’ve reviewed recently really could have been set anywhere, but here, Iceland is a character. Even the main location of the murder – a lighthouse – is real. I looked up pictures (gorgeous). So I felt like I could picture the characters and how they related to the world they were in.

As I mention, there is discussion of child abuse in this book. Most of the specific details are not shared, but it is implied that there is a sexual nature to the abuse, which is obviously VERY disturbing. But it isn’t the main focus or feature of the book, if that makes sense. But I did want to offer that warning to those who might find that topic especially triggering.

There are two more books by this author, but I don’t believe they have yet been translated into English. Once they are, I will definitely seek them out.

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Donate it.

Sunday

8

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

Black and British by David Olusoga

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Anyone unfamiliar with the history of Black Britons.

In a nutshell:
Author Olusoga provides this children’s version of his book Black and British: A Forgotten History.

Worth quoting:
“They would complain to the owners of pubs, restaurants or hotels that were serving Black GIs as guests. One white British woman running a bar had a complaint like this from a white GI. She replied that she would carry on serving Black soldiers because ‘their money is as good as yours, and we prefer their company.’”

Why I chose it:
My partner picked it up and after reading it passed it along to me. Also, as two white people from the US living in England, we thought it might be good understand the history of this country beyond a few Kings and Queens.

Review:
As someone from the US, and educated in a predominantly white education system, I was barely taught much about US history beyond the glorification of colonialism, let alone about the history of any other nations. Since I’m making a new country my home, it seems appropriate to make an effort to learn more here. This book is aimed at tweens (I think, judging from the writing style), so it doesn’t take any deep dives, but it does provide the start of a history, dating all the way back to the Roman times.

Much of what was in here I’d vaguely heard of (especially the areas Professor Olusoga highlights in the 1700s and beyond), but much of the information about things before then was brand new to me. And I learned some new things about topics I had a baseline knowledge of, like the Windrush generation, and the British profit from slave trade and slavery.

When the George Floyd murder happened in the US this summer and protests were organized, there were some (white) people in the UK shaking their heads and sort of congratulating themselves that racism isn’t as big a thing in the UK. To which the Black people and people of color I know here said, to paraphrase, ‘bullshit.’ This book, though in less strong language, definitely shows how the Black people in Britain have faced racism. But it also celebrates and highlights the accomplishments and contributions Black Britons have made to the culture and society here.

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Keep it

 

Wednesday

21

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Voices by Arnaldur Indriðason

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who like mysteries set around Christmastime.

In a nutshell:
Detective Erlendur is called to investigate a murder that took place at a hotel a week before Christmas.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I’m enjoying having something somewhat easy to read in between more substantial books. That sounds like an insult, but I don’t mean it that way at all.

Review:
I said in my last review that I was hoping this author wasn’t committed to having women always (only?) be the victims of the crimes his detective investigates, and I got my wish with this one. While a woman does play a prominent role in the investigation, the story involves the murder of a man who was formerly a renowned choirboy.

This story definitely has a more claustrophobic feel than the previous two books. Erlendur spends the duration of the novel staying in the hotel where the murder took place, taking his meals, meeting with his daughter, and of course, investigating the crime. It’s snowing out, Christmas is approaching, and there’s both a sense of urgency and a sense of calm in the book.

The book also does an interesting job of exploring the expectations families put on children, and how when they may not live up to those expectations — either by circumstances, or by choice — parents can be cruel in response. It also looks at how people who are perceived as being different are treated, both as children and as adults. Kind of a lot of a mystery, eh?

It took my a month to read the book, but not because it was a hard read. I just had to allow myself the time to get into it – this can’t be a book you read a couple of chapters at a time – this is a good book to pick up at lunch and commit to reading all afternoon.

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Wednesday

7

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Idiot by Laura Clery

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who know who Laura Clery is (I’m guessing); people who like a good story about overcoming addiction; people who read The Secret.

In a nutshell:
Writer / actress Laura Clery’s memoir shares stories of trying to make it in Hollywood.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I generally love memoirs, especially read by the author. In reality I probably should have passed it by when I saw the title, but I didn’t really even process that until I started writing this review.

Review:
Hmmm. This book might have been two stars now that I’m done with it, but I think three stars is warranted as I was definitely entertained, and at times moved. The writing is good, and the delivery of the audio book is good. Just overall the content at times was a bit rough, though mostly at the end. So maybe that’s the problem?

First, I should say that I am not at all familiar with the author – I’d not heard of her until her book showed up in the Google Play recommendations. I’ve still not sought out her work as it’s probably not my thing. The author moved to Los Angeles right after high school, then moved to New York, eventually settling back in LA. She was in an abusive relationship for years (and is able to discuss it with the seriousness it deserves while also keeping the reader entertained and interjecting jokes where possible and appropriate). She has had very substance use disorders, and has found AA to be helpful in maintaining her sobriety.

Here’s where I think I was lost – the discussion about Marianne Williamson’s philosophy of life, is just too woo woo for me. I think the ‘law of attraction’ is utter bullshit and actively harmful as it implies that anyone who is suffering just … didn’t manifest what they wanted hard enough, making pain essentially a personal fault. Not cool.

Also, the title of the book is an ableist slur, so not great.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Toss it (metaphorically; it’s an audiobook)

Thursday

1

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Nala’s World by Dean Nicholson

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Animal lovers. People who like to travel. People who care about the world.

In a nutshell:
Scottish wanderer Nicholson set out to ride his bike throughout Europe and beyond. He found an abandoned kitten and their lives changed.

Worth quoting:
N/A

Why I chose it:
I follow Dean and Nala on Instagram so was aware of the book and happy to support them in their travels.

Review:
Like many of Dean and Nala’s social media followers (@1bike1world on Instagram), I discovered them when a video of them was put out by The Dodo. (You can watch it here https://www.thedodo.com/videos/our-shows/guy-biking-across-the-world-picks-up-a-stray-kitten) I am a cat lover (I have two ginger tabbies of my own who we brought with us when we moved from the US to the UK) and a sucker for sweet stories.

This book details Dean and Nala’s journey so far, spreading awareness of and support for animal and environmental issues. They’ve sold calendars (and now a book!) to raise money to support animal rescue groups in the countries they visit. It’s also a travelogue, full of tales of their adventures across Europe. It ends right around the start of the pandemic, and there is some legitimate drama in there.

I don’t know what I was expecting from this – a bit of fluff and some sweet pictures, I guess. But this is a legitimately entertaining, sweet, and inspirational book. It’s 250 pages, so while it’s capitalizing on their fame a bit, there’s substance here. There are discussions about animal welfare, explorations of what to do with one’s life, thoughts on what matters. And it’s also really, really hopeful. It’s simple and sweet and frankly so welcome at this moment. It brought me joy and I’ll get more joy out of it in the future, looking over the pictures of this adorable kitten and her Scottish human.

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Keep it

Monday

21

September 2020

0

COMMENTS

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who like a mystery that you might actually start to be able to solve, but probably won’t. Like, nothing in here was utterly shocking, but it wasn’t so telescoped that I could have written the ending myself.

In a nutshell:
CN for the book: Intimate Partner Violence, Ableism

Detective Erlendur is back. His daughter is in hospital and unconscious, while he tries to solve the mystery of some bones found near a construction site that are likely 60 or more years old. While he works things out, we get a glimpse into what may have happened, until it all comes together.

Worth quoting:
“Spring and summer were not Erlendur’s seasons. Too bright. Too frivolous. He wanted heavy, dark winters.” (Same, Erlendur. Same.)

Why I chose it:
I’m in it now. I think there are like ten books in this series? So buckle up!

Review:
So, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this author. I think he tells stories well, and he is sensitive to the seriousness of the crimes he whips up for his books. But so far, women in distress have featured heavily – the first book involved sexual assault; this one involves intimate partner violence. I’m REALLY hoping the next book does not have a woman as the main victim, but we shall see.

A child is discovered gnawing on a toy, which turns out to be a rib, from a skeleton that has been discovered. It is clearly a VERY old body, so the investigation doesn’t any level of urgency. The author solves this, however, by interspersing chapters of the investigation with vignettes from the lives of those who may have been involved in this death. It’s Iceland during WWII, where far outside of Reykjavik, the British have set up barracks. A family lives in a rented shack nearby, with a vicious husband, a scared wife, and three children. Is the skeleton one of theirs? I mean, I knew whose bones I was hoping it was …

We learn a bit more about Erlendur’s colleagues in this one. The guy is in a relationship and is a bit emotionally immature; the woman plays a bit more of a role in this one (interviewing people) and also has a moment with one interviewer that acknowledges the lack of women in her field. I get that, again, the main character is a man, and that’s what I’m here for, but it’d be cool if more of the women around him weren’t experiencing deep amounts of distress.

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